The conference finals are just around the corner in the 2009 NBA playoffs, which has shaped up to be one of the most entertaining post-seasons in recent memory. Basketball fans have witnessed such highlights as the Celtics narrowly avoiding an early elimination against a resilient Chicago Bulls team, the rise of the Nuggets who haven’t lost a home game since early March, and LeBron James leading his unstoppable Cavaliers to sweeps over the Pistons and the Hawks.
Those who love the thrill of a series that goes the full seven games have definitely not been disappointed this year. In the first round both the Hawks vs. Heat series and the Bulls vs. Celtics series went to a do-or-die game seven, with the Celtics and the Hawks just barely making it to the next round. A game seven has also been required in the second round for the Rockets vs. Lakers series, as well as the Magic vs. Celtics series.
Not all the match-ups have come down to the wire however. In the first round the Denver Nuggets downed New Orleans in just five games. In game four of the series they murdered the poor Hornets, winning by 58 points and tying the playoff record for the largest margin of victory set in 1959. Denver also stonewalled Dallas during the second round in just five games in a series that will be remembered more for Mark Cuban’s mouth than the Mavericks defense.
Meanwhile in the Eastern conference, the Cavaliers are dominating opponents, and having fun doing it. MVP LeBron James leads the Cavs, averaging 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in the playoffs so far. Cleveland has yet to lose a post-season game in 2009, and they easily crushed Detroit and Atlanta in the first and second rounds.
If the Lakers are able to defeat the Rockets the possibility of the Lakers facing the Cavaliers in the finals exists, a scenario that makes LeBron and Kobe fans salivate. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch though.
The Lakers will have to fight for their playoff future against the Rockets on Sunday, May 17th with the winner advancing to face the Nuggets in the Western Conference final. On the same day the Celtics will play the Magic to see who advances to the Eastern Conference final where they will face the Cavaliers. Both these games have playoff-changing ramifications, not only for the teams involved, and also for the teams that have to face the winner of each game.
If I were a Cavalier’s fan, I would definitely be rooting for the Celtics to win this series. True, Boston is the defending champions, but they have been plagued with injuries and have a slim chance of repeating this year. With big men Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe both sitting on the bench, the Celtics are weak down low, a fact that the Cavs could easily exploit. This is also Boston’s second seven-game series of the playoffs, which is definitely going to affect their stamina if they manage to advance.
The Magic on the other hand, have all-star Dwight Howard who is averaging 20 points and 16 rebounds a game as well as Rashad Lewis who is putting up 19 points and 6 rebounds. They are a very balanced team, and a tough match-up for anyone in the league.
The Nuggets have to be rooting for the Rockets to beat the Lakers, but it probably won’t happen. L.A. hasn’t been playing their best basketball during this series, but winning in game seven could energize them and that is a risk that Denver doesn’t want to take. Kobe has the ability to take over a game, especially in the playoffs, and his supporting cast has enough talent and experience to go all the way.
The Rockets have surprised everyone with their solid defense and ability to go on scoring-runs, but now that Yao Ming is out with a broken foot they really don’t really have a chance. Houston’s strategy relies on Yao too much, and even if they pull off the upset against the Lakers, Denver will crush them.